Five months, almost to the day, since we reported that Amec Foster Wheeler would provide key robotics components to ITER, Siemens is joining the ambitious project to prove the validity of fusion energy.
Collaborating with Fusion for Energy (F4E), the European arm of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), Siemens will be providing the heating systems for the experimental reactor.
However the heating elements will be required to heat the plasma to 150 million degrees Celsius, roughly ten times hotter than the sun’s core, and currently beyond current industrial practises.
The importance of ITER can’t be overstated and it’s one of the largest non-military international collaborations in history. The fusion reactors could not only solve the environmental and energy crises but power a whole new generation of space craft for long term, deep space, exploration.
To put this into relative terms: a fusion reactor is four million times more energetic than coal or gas firing reactors. It would also only expend 250 kilogrammes of material a year compared to the 9 million tonnes of coal burned by the average coal firing power station (49 million tonnes UK wide). The by products are helium, Deuterium and Tritium. The former two are perfectly harmless, the latter is used in the fusion process so could potentially be recycled. All this without the 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced just from a coal fired power station.
The cost of the reactor is expected to cost around €13 billion (£9.5 billion), half of the funding coming from the European Union – the UK included – and the rest will come from the other 6 sponsoring nations. The predicted power output for what is essentially a working prototype is 500MW. Considering the small amount of materials used in the reaction process this is amazing.
This will also be the first time a fusion reactor will have produced more energy than it took to power it – 50MW input to 500MW output. The only reactor to come close was the JET (Joint European Torus) built in the UK which achieved 70% of input power. The ITER is a significant leap forward. Recent advances in superconductor technology could make fusion reactors economically viable within decades according to researchers in the UK.
The high voltage units Siemens are constructing will act like Faraday cages and will contain transformers, power distribution systems and control cubicles. Spread over two floors the units will cover 150 square metres, weigh as much as 100 tonnes and generate 33MW of power to inject neutral particles to the core of the super-hot plasma.
‘Through this collaboration, a European global innovator will contribute to the largest international collaboration that is expected to influence the future energy mix,’ said Pietro Barabaschi, F4E acting director.